Gaza War of 2023 Day 69 – Despair

Despair. That’s what I’m feeling right now, and I hate it. I’m normally an optimistic person. 

There has been so much death, destruction, pain, suffering. We still have hostages in Gaza. The death toll and human suffering in Gaza is horrific. And we seem no closer to long term security.

In the immediate aftermath of October 7 practically every Israeli felt “Hamas must be destroyed.” Now that a few months have passed, it seems pretty obvious that is an unattainable goal. Hamas’s ability to harm us in the way it did on October 7 can be reduced, but there is no way we will destroy the organization. As abhorrent an idea as it is to Israelis, Hamas’s popularity in the wake of October 7 has only increased, at least in the West Bank. The people there are overjoyed that some of their prisoners have been released, and that someone has stuck it in the eye of the occupier. Never mind that it predictably unleashed a hell storm of destruction on the poor people of Gaza.

I have said in previous rounds of fighting with Gaza that you can’t use F-16s to bomb terrorism out of existence. You’ll just breed more terrorists. The only thing that will lead to real security for both Israelis and Palestinians is peace, a negotiated, agreed upon peace, whether that’s two states, one state, or a confederation, but it needs to be something that both sides agree on. And sadly I see the vision of peace receding ever further away.

A senior Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, has vowed that Hamas will launch “a second, a third, a fourth attack, until the country is annihilated.” He said, “Israel has no place on our land. We must remove the country because it constitutes a security, military and political catastrophe.”

He’s delusional. Hamas killed 1200 Israelis, and another 100+ Israeli soldiers have died in the war since October 7. But something approaching 20,000 Palestinians (according to Haaretz, estimated 60% women, children, or elderly) have been killed since the war started, approaching 1% of the population of Gaza. Who’s the one likely to be annihilated if Hamas launches more attacks?

And the Israeli political leadership is also delusional. They continue to be obsessed with destroying Hamas, with little regard to the civilian death toll in Gaza or the humanitarian crisis there, and with no regard to what happens on the day after the war. 

American support for Israel’s actions in Gaza is waning. Netanyahu has recently vowed to keep fighting even without international support (a popular message for his right-wing supporters) but without American support Israel will eventually run out of ammunition, and it needs to keep a good stockpile on hand lest the northern front with Hezbollah flares up.

Too many Palestinians celebrate the barbaric attack on October 7. I heard interviews NPR did with people in Ramallah, and they do not believe the reports on what Hamas did. One person actually said, “Hamas would not kill women and children, it’s forbidden by Islam.” Never mind that Hamas themselves posted videos of them killing women and children.

Too many Israelis don’t care about the death toll in Gaza. “Hamas uses human shields, what do you expect,” they say, with a shrug.

Hamas is growing in popularity in the West Bank, and meanwhile Jewish extremist settler violence, a disgusting phenomenon, is on the rise, with Ben Gvir the enabler turning a blind eye, if not actually providing encouragement. And even leftist Israelis are saying things like, “Jabotinksy was right. They will always hate us. We have no choice but to build an iron wall and live by the sword.”

Where things are heading seems like more misery for everyone. There is no international force that is going to magically appear and rule and rebuild Gaza. Netanyahu has always wanted to keep the PA weak (that’s why he allowed Qatar to fund Hamas), so he’s not going to empower the PA to really create an effective government in Gaza. Netanyahu, no doubt, hopes to keep this war going as long as possible as he is very likely going to be out on his ass the day after the war is over.

My prediction is eventually Israel will cave to international pressure, there will be a ceasefire, and Israel will keep troops in Gaza for security purposes, to continue to prevent Hamas from building a military capability. They will have no interest in rebuilding Gaza, so two million people will live in miserable conditions for years. And Gazan civilians and Israeli soldiers will continue to die, just in smaller numbers.

The only hope would be fresh, visionary leadership on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, leadership committed to finding a solution that gives the Palestinians dignity and the Israelis security. That leadership is not coming from Abbas and Netanyahu. 

I really hope and pray that I’m wrong. I really hope and pray that the trauma both peoples have experienced in the last two months will stimulate change for the better. But I’m not holding my breath.

Tonight starts the last day of Chanukah. We need light now more than ever. 

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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